Journey from the Center of a Young Earth, Part 1: Epistemology

Journey from the Center of a Young Earth, Part 1: Epistemology

We’ve all had journeys of various kinds. Sometimes the conceptual ones are the toughest. They’re fraught with uncertainty, fear, even peril—but the rewards of a satisfying destination make the upheaval more than worthwhile. Such was my case as I sought to understand the truth on the issue of the earth’s age.

As the title suggests, my journey from young-earth creationism (YEC) was indeed “a journey,” a portentous one filled with all the anxiety and expectation of an unforeseen expedition. I imagined myself as the audacious Professor Otto Lidenbrock, from the Jules Verne classic, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, with his indefatigable determination to discover the truth behind the coded note found in his newly purchased runic text. But, in my case it was the original text of Genesis 1, along with other relevant creation passages, which I was determined to understand. While I did not lock my family up without food until I was able to interpret the texts, I did spend countless hours in solitude. I wanted to analyze and understand all the biblical and scientific evidence thoroughly, without presumption or prejudice. I was determined to learn without allowing fear, criticism, relationships, or ministry concerns to influence the outcome of my investigation.1 I was pursuing the truth, and I knew that calling on “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17) was the answer. I also knew that he who was “the way and the truth” (John 14:6) would give me the proper understanding of his Word and works.

My Starting Point

Before this fortuitous trek, I was a devoted and ardent defender of YEC. I taught its tenets from the pulpit of my church and on TV and radio, and I produced YEC-related material. My feet were firmly planted in young-earth soil, and I was convinced through the work of others that science supported, and even proved, the earth and universe were only six to ten thousand years old. Further, and more importantly, I was convinced that the only option for a Bible-believing, Southern Baptist inerrantist and thoroughgoing biblicist (who was also a classic dispensationalist by birth right and conviction) was to interpret the days of Genesis as normal 24-hour days, which necessarily implied such an age.

My commitment to YEC was a matter of honoring God’s Word; thus, my championing of this position was a matter of orthodoxy and biblical infallibility. Therefore, to deny YEC was akin to calling God a liar and allowing science to tell us that the Bible was errant and Genesis 1 was myth. I was committed to defending YEC and I considered myself a creation science apologist with ambitions to serve the Lord and evangelize through that message.

A Turning Point

But, a noonday signaling shadow caught my attention, and a journey from the center of a young earth became inevitable. The caverns of my mind were enlightened and the light exposed the epistemological blind spots of my thinking. The shadows of my untested presuppositions were revealed, and I could not remain idle. What were these crucial insights that necessitated the journey from young earth creationism?

After finishing my doctoral studies in 2006, I took the opportunity to further explore the philosophical issues that caught my attention during my study and research. The two most intriguing and relevant matters were in the realm of epistemology and metaphysics. Later these two fundamental themes would serve as (two of three) main divisions in my book, The One Who Is: The Doctrine and Existence of God.

Epistemological Help along the Way

The first and most important factor for any person who desires to know truth and the nature of reality is to acquire the understanding of “how we know what we know.” This is epistemology, and to have “blind spots” here is to be subject to forming premature or erroneous conclusions in a matter. To be more specific, as a pastor and theologian, I have discovered that many Christians will allow unknown and untested presuppositions or preunderstandings to drive their interpretation of a given text of Scripture. And, most of the time they are unaware that they have “packed bags” or “mental luggage” that contributes to their understanding of Scripture and of the nature of reality. Other times, these preunderstandings are not only known, but also are deemed proper due to some other unknown or untested presumption. In our day, it is not uncommon for someone to come to Scripture with the thought that God can speak to them in such a way that nothing else is needed in the acquisition of knowledge. Further, this view is blind to the fact that reality and reason have contributed to their understanding already, and yet those components are discarded as a source of knowing the truth and/or interpreting Scripture.

This mindset appears to be an honorable, spiritual approach to epistemology but it is beset with problems. A thorough treatment of epistemology is impossible in this short article, but a few important points should be mentioned by way of analogy. Our knowing starts with an input device called “sense perception” and our biosystem comes with a very large preformatted “mind-drive” that is ready to be written on by the experience of reality. The first principle written on our mind is the law of noncontradiction, which is followed by the law of identity and supplemented by the law of the excluded middle (called the laws of thought2). From there, our minds engage in the act of apprehension and judgment. The first act of the mind is simple apprehension (conceptus) where a noun or verb is conceptually understood. The second act of the mind is judgment (judicium), where composite understanding takes place and where the mind composes and/or divides subject and predicate. Here subject and predicate are composed into a sentence and knowledge is obtained. Throughout one’s life and experiences the mind apprehends and judges. That’s how things become known. Correct judgments will keep a person from developing erroneous preunderstandings and/or conclusions, and the simple awareness and intentional application of reason will serve in their discovery of truth.

Metaphysical Help

Now, imagine that a person has not considered “how we know what we know,” and comes to Scripture presupposing the ability to properly interpret a text apart from the input of reality and reason3 (or proper hermeneutics). Moreover, this person does not further investigate issues of metaphysics (nature of reality), and fails to understand how, for example, predications (production of meaningful statements) should be applied to God. As finite creatures with finite words and concepts, should we assume that our words and concepts apply to the infinite (God) in a univocal (one-to-one) manner?4 I would say no. Such an approach runs the danger of misinterpreting Scripture through wrong assumptions and epistemological blind spots.

Getting There

God is as much the author of reason as he is of Scripture, and the two must harmonize or we have interpreted either one or both incorrectly. God has designed his creation such that all people will be subject to the nature of reality as he has created it. (Therefore, the related issue of the relationship of faith and reason must be addressed—see part 2). Once I understood that God was the author of creation and the Bible then I knew that they must agree, and that reason could be helpful in understanding Scripture. I was well on my way out of the center of the YEC paradigm and into a better place of understanding.

  1. As Aquinas noted, “A small mistake in the beginning is a big one in the end, according to the Philosopher in the first book of On the Heavens and the Earth,” Thomas Aquinas, “De Ente et Essentia” (On Being and Essence), 1, adapted and html-edited by Joseph Kenny, O.P.,
  2. See chapter six in Kenny Rhodes, The One Who Is: The Doctrine and Existence of God, 2nd ed. (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2015), 93–97.
  3. “The light of natural reason itself is a participation of the divine light; as likewise we are said to see and judge of sensible things in the sun, that is, by the sun’s light.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, I q.12 a.11 ad.3 (New York: Cosimo, Inc., 2007), 58. 4. For a further explanation of this topic, see The One Who Is, 28–32.